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There are pictures of Heather Hobbs standing next to a Christmas tree smiling, alongside her boyfriend and her mom. And pictures of her posing with her nieces.
They are simple memories for a 31-year-old woman. But that wasn’t always the case.
She was 12. It was summer. Right around the time of her birthday when she started drinking lots of soft drinks, milk – anything to quench her thirst. She became sick and weak and ended up at Riley Hospital for Children where she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. For 18 years her life was about managing her blood sugar levels, said Hobbs.
“I would see an endocrinologist for diabetes management, and yearly I'd get a page full of lab orders, including a kidney (creatinine level) test,” said Hobbs, a 2004 graduate of Franklin Central. In 2010, the levels were slightly elevated and then back to normal. In 2012 more lab work determined the creatinine levels were again moderately high.
“It would either stay stable, or it dropped, getting worse so they didn’t know the severity of it,” said Hobbs.
From that point on, she was in regular consults with a nephrologist. When things didn’t turn around, it was determined her kidneys were irreversibly scarred.
“Every month I'd see my nephrologist and basically my kidney function either stayed stable or dropped by decimal points. I was adamant not to start dialysis no matter what anyone else had done,” said Hobbs.
In 2015, her doctor suggested she begin transplant education and shortly afterward, she was put the wait list. Eight months passed before she got her first call. She wasn’t yet on dialysis but didn’t feel ready for the transplant. She was scared.
Her condition grew worse over time. As her creatinine levels increased, she began to have difficulty walking and at one point fell.
“I was getting tired, having muscle cramps, and heavy legs. It turned into losing my ability to bend down and use my legs. I had no strength, could not take steps, even up a curb,” said Hobbs.
It was around 2:30 in the morning on January 21, 2017 when everything changed. She was at IU Health and was being wheeled to OR. She was getting a kidney/pancreas transplant.
“I started feeling panic. It’s something you really can’t prepare for. I met the transplant team and then I started calming down. Just before I entered the OR. I saw my little kidney in some kind of machine outside the room,” said Hobbs. Then she saw the pancreas and she heard music - Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic.
This was it. She was in surgery six hours and remained hospitalized for nine days.
On January 21, 2018 she wrote: “Today marks the one year anniversary of my kidney/ pancreas transplant. It's definitely not been what I would have expected, but it saved my life, and saved me from a life on dialysis. I'm so appreciative of my young donor and his family. Please look into organ donation, please just take a few minutes to learn the struggles of those out there battling awful illnesses while they wait. There is so much people don't understand after you get a transplant, or the struggles before it. It's not a cure, it's a way of management.”
As she recently relaxed sipping a cup of coffee Hobbs said she is getting back her strength and slowly learning what the new normal is - post transplant.
“No matter what complications I live with. I would never go back to life before transplant – I can walk, I can live more of a normal life. I eat normally and I’m forever grateful to my doctors. Every day I get up, I’m thankful that’s what I can do.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health. Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.